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Champions League Group Stage preview: Best bets to qualify


The eight groups of the 2022/23 Champions League have been drawn. Mark O’Haire previews the pools and highlights the value ahead of the return of Europe’s premier club competition. 


Group A: Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli, Rangers

Despite an indifferent start to their Premier League campaign, Liverpool are hot favourites to progress from Group A. The Reds should return to something resembling their best once injuries begin to clear up and the Anfield factor is enough to give the short-priced favourites plenty of respect in the market. 

Top seeds Ajax are undergoing a rebuild following the departure of head coach Erik Ten Haag, as well as a catalogue of key players: Sebastian Haller, Lisandro Martinez, Antony, Andre Onana, Sebastien Haller, Noussair Mazraoui and Ryan Gravenberch. That’s enough to leave the Amsterdammers alone here and instead focus attention on Napoli and Rangers.

Rangers will expect to pinch points at their atmospheric Ibrox base and showed their potential as underdogs during their run to the Europa League final. But Napoli are favored at +120 To Qualify; the Partenopei have impressively retooled in the summer and should only improve from here with the experienced Luciano Spalletti overseeing proceedings. 


Group B: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge

Atletico Madrid are the market frontrunners in Group B, although there’s a suggestion the Spaniards powers have waned. Financial pressures mean recruitment has been limited, and whilst Los Colchoneros still boast a quality squad, the 2016 finalists are still searching for a new style away from their traditional spoilers tag.

Porto were the better team in both group-stage meetings with Atletico last term and the Portuguese side could be real dangers for top spot. Sergio Conceicao’s charges have the ability to upset the odds but make most appeal as -120 shots in the To Qualify market; expect a physical and organized approach with a dash of star quality in the final-third.

Leverkusen have kept the bulk of their talented squad together and Gerardo Seoane’s squad tend to play exciting, attacking football. However, Die Werkself may prove too naïve to progress past Atleti and Porto, whilst Club Brugge look destined for a transitional campaign following a change in the dugout and the loss of star forward Charles De Ketelaere.


Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Viktoria Plzen

Group C is the standout pool with 14 European titles spread across three giants of the game in Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Inter Milan. Czech champions, Viktoria Plzen, are here to make up the numbers here and could well exit the competition pointless.

Bayern deserve support at -130 to clinch top honors. Julian Nagelsmann has seen Robert Lewandowski move on, yet the German giants have evolved into a more threatening and fluid outfit this term with Sadio Mane joining a star-studded forwardline. The new 4-2-2-2 formation should serve FC Hollywood well and the Munich men are the team to beat.

Lewandowski, now in the colors of Barcelona, should provide the edge to ensure the Catalans aren’t discounted. But following an influx of new additions, Xavi may require time to find a system or structure to suit the Blaugrana. Barca still appear a little unbalanced and a trip to the Allianz Arena on matchday two arguably arrives a little too soon.

Inter have reprised the Romelu Lukaku-Lautaro Martinez partnership in attack and will be encouraged by their performances in the competition last season. Travelling to Bayern on the final matchday could suit the Nerazzurri in their quest to qualify and the Italians are preferred over Barcelona in an incredibly competitive heat.


Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille

Tottenham have been handed a plum draw on their return to the Champions League. Spurs should prove too good for the field in Group D and have been well-backed to go deep in the competition under Antonio Conte’s watch. The North Londoners have earned the most Premier League points this calendar year and have a squad capable of competing. 

Few sides can match Tottenham’s firepower and I fully expect Spurs to justify their position as strong favorites in what resembles more of a Europa League pool. Eintracht Frankfurt – Europa League winners – have seen star man Filip Kostic move on, and the Bundesliga boys have toiled this term and may find the step-up to this competition too tall an order. 

Sporting have suffered from key departures with reports boss Ruben Amorim is unhappy with the club’s work in replacing first-team assets, which leaves Marseille as potentially an undervalued option to progress. The Ligue 1 runners-up have a reasonable blend of bite and match-winning quality and should fancy their chances of qualifying in an open race.


Group E: AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb

Are Chelsea vulnerable Group E favorites? Possibly. The Blues have displayed an ability to rise to high-quality challenges in the past, but the two-time champions did fail to take top spot in last season’s group-stages, finishing second behind an underwhelming Juventus. Without a reliable goalscorer, Thomas Tuchel’s team are best left alone. 

Having won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years, Milan are looking to make an impact on the continental circuit. Stefano Pioli was perhaps a little too naïve in his approach last term, but the Rossoneri should be stronger for the experience and have added quality to their forwardline and still boast the defensive steel that underpinned their domestic title. 

Lively RB Salzburg reached the knockout stages for the first time in 2021/22, yet the Austrians have endured a major overhaul during the summer with 10 players departing. Meanwhile, Dinamo Zagreb will just be happy to enjoy the occasion, recording only three Champions League group-stage wins from their past 36 attempts. 


Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic

Real Madrid should comfortable secure knockout football having been drawn into a kind Group F. The defending champions lose Casemiro from their midfield, although the additions of Aurelien Tchouameni and Antonio Rudiger ensure there’s enough protection to allow the ever-impressive Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior to terrorize opponents. 

RB Leipzig are stacked in offensive areas and should be eying up a top-two finish. Domenico Tedesco turned Die Rotten Bullen’s fortunes around midway through last season but has so far struggled to take the Germans to the next level this term. Leipzig don’t enjoy the same home backing as group rivals Celtic, and home advantage could prove crucial.

The atmosphere under the lights at Parkhead has seen many high-quality opponents crumble and Celtic have a reasonable chance of recording a notable victory or two under the astute leadership of Ange Postecoglou. But it’s a tall order for Shakhtar, who will be hosting matches from Warsaw and have lost almost all of their global stars. 


Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, FC Copenhagen

Manchester City have reached the semi-finals in the past two campaigns and will comfortably clear the first hurdle in their latest renewal. The Citizens have been installed as the short-priced competition favorites following the arrival of Erling Haaland and present a formidable challenge for opponents. 

Haaland’s former club Dortmund have been tipped to follow City into the knockout stages, although doubts persist over BVB’s consistency and reliability, particularly in defensive areas. Eden Terzic’s team have been hit by injuries down the spine of the side, are still searching for something resembling top gear and therefore appear far from trustworthy. 

Sevilla have regressed. The Spaniards have lost center-back stars Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde, done little in the transfer market, and attracted criticism for a mundane playing style under Julen Lopetegui. The La Liga outfit disappointed in the group-stage last season but remain awkward opposition and are better than the To Qualify odds suggest. 


Group H: Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Benfica, Maccabi Haifa

Is this finally going to be PSG’s year? In Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar, Les Parisiens boast the planet’s most threatening forwardline, but too often the balance hasn’t been quite right, and the Ligue 1 champions have choked on the big stage. New coach Christophe Galtier provides a calm platform and the French comfortably qualify.

The battle to join PSG in the last-16 could be closer than the odds suggest. Juventus are still overhauling their defense, whilst many of the Old Lady’s summer signings are on the treatment table for the first three matchdays. Max Allegri’s men aren’t the force of old and may find the challenge of Benfica more competitive than the market imagines.

Benfica performed above expectations in Europe despite a tough domestic campaign last time out. The Lisbon club have seen Darwin Nunez depart yet young striker Goncalo Ramos has led the line impressively in his absence and incoming head coach Roger Schmidt has already made a major impact. The Portuguese outfit are intriguing +300 shots To Qualify.


Best Bets:

Group A - Napoli To Qualify (+120, BetRivers)

Group B – Porto To Qualify (-120, Betway)

Group C – Bayern to win Group C (-130, BetRivers)

Group H – Benfica To Qualify (+350, Bet365)